The Lace Mantilla: A Centuries-Old Spanish Tradition

In the May/June 2018 issue of PieceWork, our 11th-annual Lace Issue, Mary Polityka Bush tells us about the long tradition of Spanish women wearing a lace mantilla during Holy Week, the period of religious devotion between Palm Sunday and Easter. A woman’s lace mantilla is a very special piece of apparel. Here’s Mary to tell us more:

A Spanish woman’s mantilla is as much a part of who she is as the color of her eyes. Although sumptuary laws may have controlled who could own and wear a mantilla over the years, they also protected the garment. In fact, current law has deemed the mantilla so precious and such a deeply personal possession that it cannot be taken from the woman who owns it, even as payment for a debt. It is unsurprising that mantillas are cherished heirlooms passed from one generation to the next.


Mantillas are draped over a peineta (comb) to add height and dramatic effect. Photo by Tamorlan and courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The mantilla’s beauty is clearly undisputed, but its lineage is less certain. Because it was worn to veil the face early on, some posit a connection to a Muslim woman’s hijab or izār (veil or head covering), an influence that would connect it with the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula (711–1479). Others contend that today’s mantilla represents a natural progression from the cape or shawl once worn over the head for warmth. Because the word “mantilla” is a diminutive form of manta (blanket), manto (cloak), or manton (shawl), this logic may have merit. The textiles for such mantillas would have varied from heavy, warm fabrics such as flannel, wool, and velvet in the colder north to light, gauzy fabrics (sometimes embroidered to make head coverings called tocas) and eventually lace in the warm southern climes.

Mary Polityka Bush of Piedmont, California, fondly recalls her Polish mother, Jean Polityka, who was a devout Catholic all her life, wearing an ethereal black mantilla to Sunday Mass. The mantilla was a rectangle of delicate embroidered black net that fell past her shoulders. It was the expert handwork of nuns in a convent in Puerto Rico, where it was purchased by a family friend who transported it home to Allegan, Michigan, as a surprise for Mom. She was overwhelmed.

To read the rest of Mary’s article, “The Lace Mantilla: A Centuries-Old Spanish Tradition,” download your copy of the May/June 2018 issue of PieceWork. For more about another form of Spanish lace, read “A Medallion of Frisado de Valladolid-Style Lace to Stitch,” also in the May/June 2018 issue.

Featured Image: Woman wearing the traditional mantilla during Holy Week in Seville, Spain. 2012. Photo by Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images.

Originally posted April 18, 2018. Updated January 17, 2019.

Learn more about the history of lace in PieceWork!

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